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Consequences or Conversations? Discipline in the 4-H Club Setting

As a society we are governed by laws, both in social and legal terms, and youth programs are no exception. Florida 4-H has a code of conduct that is understood and signed by both youth and adults annually.

This document outlines the expectations of good behavior, safety, responsibility, respect and willing participation. Failure to follow the code of conduct either by an adult or youth can result in asking of the participant to consider other opportunities. However, knowing the level of disciplinary action required for the situation can by tricky for club leaders.

To Make the Best, BETTER

I was fortunate enough to visit one of our Nassau County community clubs and witness what I believe to be a perfect example of using 4-H philosophies to address behavioral disruptions. In this particular situation, the club had a group conversation about how to handle a recent piece of property being damaged during a moment of  competitive play. A few youth chimed in about adding protective measures to the equipment, adding additional adult supervision, or even probation of the “culprits”. Their leader, however, recognized these suggestions but offered another solution- forgiveness and self responsibility.

The discussion began by breaking down the 4-H pledge. Here the club actively thought about what those words meant in a personal and club sense. The leader conveyed how our “head, hearts, hands, and health” are individually cultivated to make ourselves better, and how “for our club, community, county, and worldly contributions” are implemented through our self-responsibility. Everyone was reminded that the whole point of 4-H is to be there to support each other. The leader continued about how the competitive play was disruptive not because it caused damage to property, but because that particular instance violated the goals of the club to which youth were not supporting one another; competition is okay, but it need not be rude.

4-H was described to the group as an opportunity to be a part of a club dedicated to helping each youth cultivate their own skills and feel a sense of belonging. The leader expressed that he doesn’t run a club because he has to, but because he genuinely cares for the members and believes in the philosophies of the organization.

Yes, the post-incident conversation was philosophical and in the end no one was in trouble. The leader did a wonderful job of turning a moment that could have easily led to consequences into stimulating considerations for self improvement in the name of club unity.

I hope this helps other club leaders when faced with the hard question of how to handle discipline.

Of course there are clear violations of the code of conduct that may require consequences, but by taking a few extra moments to evaluate the whole scope of the problem and turning it into a learning experience for everyone is often the best choice.